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Iconic Books and Texts

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Images of books appear in art, advertising and commercial logos to symbolize learning, knowledge and wisdom. In religious and secular rituals around the globe, people carry, show, wave, touch and kiss books and other texts, as well as read them. Such images and rituals utilize the iconic dimension of texts. This volume is the first comprehensive survey of iconic books and texts. It traces their development and influence from ancient to modern times and compares their roles in multiple cultures and religious traditions. The twenty-two essays presented here are original, cutting-edge contributions to this new academic field, and will appeal to students and scholars across the study of religions, literature, book history, archives and libraries.

Published: May 1, 2013


Section Chapter Authors
Contributors James W. Watts
Introduction James W. Watts
I. Categorizing Iconic Books
1. The Three Dimensions of Scriptures James W. Watts
2. “Winged Words”: Scriptures and Classics as Iconic Texts William A. Graham
3. Talking about “Iconic Books” in the Terminology of Book History Deirdre C. Stam
II. Images and Texts
4. The Iconic Book: The Image of the Bible in Early Christian Rituals Dorina Miller Parmenter
5. Images to be Read and Words to be Seen: The Iconic Role of the Early Medieval Book Michelle P. Brown
6. Looking at Words: The Iconicity of the Page S. Brent Plate
7. Between the Textual and the Visual: Borderlines of Late Antique Book Iconicity Zeev Elitzur
8. It Is What It Is (Or Is It?): Further Reflections on the Buddhist Representation of Manuscripts Jacob Kinnard
9. The Tell-Tale Iconic Book M. Patrick Graham
III. Materials and Markets
10. Muṣḥaf and the Material Boundaries of the Qur’an Natalia K. Suit
11. The End of the Word as We Know It: The Cultural Iconicity of the Bible in the Twilight of Print Culture Timothy Beal
12. Iconic Books from Below: The Christian Bible and the Discourse of Duct Tape Dorina Miller Parmenter
13. Be-Witching Scripture: The Book of Shadows as Scripture within Wicca/Neopagan Witchcraft Shawn Loner
IV. Book Rituals
14. Engaging with the Guru: Sikh Beliefs and Practices of Guru Granth Sahib Kristina Myrvold
15. A Birthday Party for a Sacred Text: The Gita Jayanti and the Embodiment of God as the Book and the Book as God Joanne Punzo Waghorne
16. Possession and Repetition: Ways in which Korean Lay Buddhists Appropriate Scriptures Yohan Yoo
17. The Bible in British Folklore Brian Malley
V. Power and Scholarship
18. The Pride and Prejudice of the Western World: Canonic Memory, Great Books and Archive Fever Karl Ivan Solibakke
19. Indigenous “Texts” of Inhabiting the Land: George Washington’s Wampum Belt and the Canandaigua Treaty Philip P. Arnold
20. The Gospels as Imperialized Sites of Memory in Late Ancient Christianity Jason T. Larson
21. Possessing the Iconic Book: Ben Sira as Case Study Claudia V. Camp
22. Ancient Iconic Texts and Scholarly Expertise James W. Watts
End Matter
Acknowledgements James W. Watts
Author Index James W. Watts
Subject Index James W. Watts


Iconic Books and Texts should be praised for infusing into the study of religion a long-awaited and broader focus on the material side of the religious text.

The essays in this volume creatively and effectively draw together different historical epochs, varied religious and cultural traditions and ritual practices, and diverse scholarly methodologies to create a finely woven tapestry depicting the enduring, transcultural, and mutually supportive significances of iconic books and texts. In addition to giving these previously published essays a wider audience, this collection will help foster meaningful cross-disciplinary conversation between readers interested in all aspects of the history of the book.

An engaging, accessible, and important contribution to the intersection of textual studies and the analysis of material and visual culture.
Review of Biblical Literature

I highly recommend this volume to those interested in reflecting on the value of the Qur'an both today and in the past through cross-cultural comparison and new perspectives.
Andrew Rippin, University of Victoria and Institute of Ismaili Studies, Journal of Qur'anic Studies